FERRY services from Lymington to the Isle of Wight are being stepped up next week as their operator eyes the prospect of a strong summer for the tourist trade.

Wightlink will run ferries every two hours, seven days a week, between Yarmouth and the mainland from Monday, March 29.

It has not been running any ferries at weekends during the lockdown.

Wightlink chief executive Keith Greenfield told the Daily Echo: “At the moment, we’re running a two-hourly service five days a week, so we’ll step that up to seven days a week in anticipation that some more journeys will be allowable for day trips – and then overnight stays will be allowable from April 12 for self-catering.”

Wightlink is also ramping up its Portsmouth to Fishbourne service to hourly. “It’s an incremental step in the right direction and we’ll be ready to increase services further as demand starts to appear,” said Mr Greenfield.

Wightlink suspends weekend sailings on Yarmouth to Lymington route

Mr Greenfield said use of Wightlink’s ferries fell by around 90 per cent at its lowest level last year.

“We’re closer to 40-50 per cent of normal at the moment. But obviously that needs to be 100 per cent of normal as quickly as possible,” he said.

He said freight traffic was “not far off normal levels” thanks in part to the move to online shopping, but journeys by foot passengers commuting to work were at around 10 per cent of normal.

He said bookings were “coming in quite strongly” for summer.

“If the unlocking continues according to plan, particularly the June dates, then certainly by the school holiday season I would hope we would see a very good summer and a normal service,” he added.

The company has gone ahead with the winter refit of ferries at a cost of £5million.

Wightlink hit by dramatic decline in passenger numbers

“We’re all confident that travel to and from the Isle of Wight will be a good business in the future. It’s just been a question of how long it takes to get there,” said Mr Greenfield.

“I’m very glad we’re part of the domestic tourism industry. I think we should make a strong comeback this summer.”

He added: “We experienced a rollercoaster last year so I think people are not counting chickens too quickly but the signs are, if things stay as they are, we can expect a very good summer season for the island and for other UK tourism destinations on the south coast.

“So we’re all hoping that happens and by golly we need it. The customers need the breaks and the tourism industry needs the income after last year.”